Native superstitions.—Charming a bewitched woman.—Exorcising ghosts from a field.—Witchcraft.—The witchfinder or ’Ojah.’—Influence of fear.—Snake bites.—How to cure them.—How to discover a thief.—Ghosts and their habits.—The ‘Haddick’ or native bone-setter.—Cruelty to animals by natives.
The natives as a rule, and especially the lower classes, are excessively superstitious. They are afraid to go out after nightfall, believing that then the spirits of the dead walk abroad. It is almost impossible to get a coolie, or even a fairly intelligent servant, to go a message at night, unless you give him another man for company.
A belief in witches is quite prevalent, and there is scarcely a village in Behar that does not contain some withered old crone, reputed and firmly believed to be a witch. Others, either young or old are believed to have the evil eye; and, as in Scotland some centuries ago, there are also witch-finders and sorcerers, who will sell charms, cast nativities, give divinations, or ward off the evil efforts of wizards and witches by powerful spells. When a wealthy man has a child born, the Brahmins cast the nativity of the infant on some auspicious day. They fix on the name, and settle the date for the baptismal ceremony.
I remember a man coming to me on one occasion from the village of Kuppoorpuckree. He rushed up to where I was sitting in the verandah, threw himself at my feet, with tears streaming down his cheeks, and amid loud cries for pity and help, told me that his wife had just been bewitched. Getting him somewhat soothed and pacified, I learned that a reputed witch lived next door to his house; that she and the man’s wife had quarrelled in the morning about some capsicums which the witch was trying to steal from his garden; that in the evening, as his wife was washing herself inside the angana, or little courtyard appertaining to his house, she was seized with cramps and shivering fits, and was now in a raging fever; that the witch had been also bathing at the time, and that the water from her body had splashed over this man’s fence, and part of it had come in contact with his wife’s body—hence undoubtedly this strange possession. He wished me to send peons at once, and have the witch seized, beaten, and expelled from the village. It would have been no use my trying to persuade him that no witchcraft existed. So I gave him a good dose of quinine for his wife, which she was to take as soon as the fit subsided. Next I got my old moonshee, or native writer, to write some Persian characters on a piece of paper; I then gave him this paper, muttering a bit of English rhyme at the time, and telling him this was a powerful spell. I told him to take three hairs from his wife’s head, and a paring from her thumb and big toe nails, and at the rising of the moon to burn them outside the walls of his hut. The poor fellow took the quinine and the paper with the deepest reverence, made me a most lowly salaam or obeisance, and departed with a light heart. He carried out my instructions to the letter, the quinine acted like a charm on the feverish woman, and I found myself quite a famous witch-doctor.